Title: The Cowboy Takes a Bride
Author: Lori Wilde
May Contain Spoilers
Ex-champion bull rider-turned-cutting-horse cowboy Joe Daniels isn’t quite sure how he ended up sleeping in a horse trough wearing nothing but his Stetson and cowboy boots. But now he’s wide-awake, and a citified woman is glaring down at him. His goal? Get rid of her ASAP. The obstacle? Fighting the attraction he feels toward the blond-haired filly with the big, vulnerable eyes.
When out-of-work wedding planner Mariah Callahan learns that her estranged father has left her a rundown ranch in Jubilee, she has no choice but to accept it. Her goal? Redeem her career by planning local weddings. The obstacle? One emotionally wounded, hard-living cowboy who stirs her guilt, her heartstrings, and her long-burned cowgirl roots . . .,
Spring is in the air (actually, it is more like summer, with unseasonal highs in the 80s), so I have been reading a ton of romance. I had very good luck with Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line, which was helmed, briefly, by Lori Wilde. After she was offered a contract with HarperCollins, she stepped down to devote her time and energy to writing. When The Cowboy Takes a Bride, the first of her Jubilee, Texas series, hit store shelves, I couldn’t resist snapping it up. I love cowboys and horses, so this book had my name written all over it. I had a mixed reading experience, partly because I do love horses, though.
Mariah Callahan is an down on her luck unemployed wedding planner. When she discovers that her estranged father left her a ranch in Jubilee, Texas, she has no choice but to drive from Chicago to check the place out. Three months of job hunting has left her in precarious financial straits, so discovering that she’s inherited a house is the answer to her prayers. Until she sees the ramshackle cabin and meets the surly cowboy who lives next door. Now she just wants to sell the dump and get on with her life, but can she resist Jubilee’s small town charms?
I loved the start of this book. Mariah, exhausted after driving from Chicago to Texas, discovers a naked cowboy in what she believes is her horse trough. Only it isn’t her ranch she’s stopped at, it’s Joe Daniels, her father’s good friend and business partner. Joe isn’t impressed when he finally meets Dutch’s daughter, and he thinks she is heartless for turning her back on her father. What Joe doesn’t realize is that Dutch abandoned Mariah and her mother, and her childhood was spent moving from one wealthy household to another, as her mother, a domestic servant, struggled to raise her alone. Mariah is bitter and resentful that Dutch dumped her and her mother so he could train cutting horses, and now that he’s dead, there is no hope of reconciliation. She’s also resentful that Dutch treated Joe like a son, while she didn’t receive any scraps of his attention.
The first half of the book drew me in and kept me engaged in the story. I love small town settings, and Jubilee, despite all of the drama, seemed like a peaceful place to set down some roots. I could understand Dutch’s attraction to the town. The cutting capital of the world, it was immediately clear why he drifted there in the first place. With big dreams to win big money with his horses, he needed to be right in the heart of cutting horse country. After selling a promising prospect to Joe, he even had a place to call home, dilapidated as it was. I could see the old cowboy living in the battered cabin, finally being content enough to try to plant some roots. Unfortunately, an unexpected illness put an end to his dreams.
Joe is devastated by Dutch’s death, which occurred two years to the day after the death of his wife in a riding accident. Joe is suffering, reeling from the loss of the two people he loved most. He doesn’t understand the chip on Mariah’s shoulder; nor can he understand that she’s not openly mourning Dutch’s death. While Mariah is cool and reserved, and not about to wear her heart on her sleeve, Joe is more open with his feelings. Everyone knows he is suffering, and the small community bands together to keep on eye on him. When Mariah arrives in town, she, too, finds the community welcoming and caring. At first put off by their interest in her, she discovers that being neighborly, something didn’t get much of in Chicago, isn’t a bad thing. I found that the various secondary characters helped keep the plot moving, and helped to ground Mariah.
What I didn’t like, and where the plot started falling apart for me, were all of the references to Sleepless in Seattle and the long winded dialogs when Joe and Mariah started opening up and sharing their feelings with each other. I just didn’t find the conversations interesting, and the emotions fell flat for me because of that. The tension between them seemed to evaporate. Mariah kept holding Joe’s love for his horses over his head, too, even though he proved, time and again, that he was nothing like her father. To be complete, Joe needed roots and someone to share his dreams with, but Mariah refused to believe in him or the promises that he offered to her. It just frustrated me that she wouldn’t give him the chance he deserved, and so her lack of trust in him felt forced to me.
Review copy purchased from Amazon